Does protesting naked prove your point?
Protesters in Notre Dame, celebrating the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Photo: Chris Alex
The last time a Pope gave up office in 1415, it’s unlikely he was met with the same reaction. Topless protesters stormed Notre Dame in Paris, with slogans painted across their torsos. On the same day the French Parliament debated the vote on gay marriage, they chanted
‘Pope No More’ ‘In Gay We Trust’ ‘Bye Bye Benedict’.
They’re part of Ukrainian feminist group FEMEN. Using their breasts as a mode of ‘sextremism’ – in their own words, and maybe of google translate – they explain ‘the magic of the body get your interested, the courage of the act make you want to riot. Come out, Go topless and Win!’.
FEMEN sound the bell in Notre Dame. Protesters storm Speaker John Boehner’s Office.
It’s not the first time FEMEN have used their bodies to make a political statement. Nor is it the first time individuals or groups have stripped to get attention for their causes. In November last year, protesters de-clothed in the US House Speaker John Boehner’s office, arguing against cuts to HIV/AIDS funding that were part of ongoing austerity negotiations. After warnings from the police, most of the protesters left – but they say some were arrested for indecent exposure.
Then there’s the naked protest against Bull Fighting in Pamplona, the de-robed demonstation on top of a glacier in Switzerland against global warming and the anti-meat campaign in New York, where protesters ‘dressed’ up as blood smeared pieces of meat in plastic packaging.
So why do people protest naked? And does it ever prove your point?
As one of the organisers of the World Naked Bike Ride explains in an interview with my colleague Harry, the naked bike ride helps spread their message ‘because it is a naked protest, and it gets in the mainstream media, [so] we can get our core messages across’.
Protesting nude does, undoubtedly help court media attention -
But arguably it’s unclear to what extent protesting naked focuses attention on your issues, and not your body. Does the cause you’re protesting for or against, become subordinate to your nakedness and thus weaken your point? If you want the media coverage, you have to accept that a majority of frames or lines will be about your nudity.
What is more clear is that, whilst protesting naked may get more coverage and attention for your cause, it won’t necessarily translate into a resolution for whatever issue you’re protesting about…
Critics of HIV funding cuts breathed a sigh of relief when said cuts weren’t in the fiscal cliff negotiations. But they warn that this may only be brief respite before the administration introduces cuts during reassessments later in the year. In Spain, the government is now considering whether to give the ailing bull fighting industry special cultural status and the tax breaks that come with it, as it struggles in the recession. And whilst the PETA demonstration may have inadvertently shown more that ‘you don’t really know what’s inside your packaging’ warning à la the Horsemeat scandal, it’s not brought about the end of the meat industry.
Animal Rights Protest, Barcelona. Photo: Chris Bewick